Traditional Cypriot Cheese Recipe
Halloumi (Helim in Turkish) is a type of white-brined cheese made throughout the Middle East; most especially in Cyprus, where records of its production and consumption date back to 300 A.D. Halloumi is a firm cheese with a dense rubbery texture. It is traditionally salted and eaten raw, grilled or fried. The recipe to make halloumi is unusual because no bacteria is added to the cheese for acidification and the cheese is boiled in its own whey after its shape has been formed.
Origin Story: Originally the milk for the cheese was taken Mouflon sheep, a very special breed that dates back to the Neolithic period and whose breed is an ancestor of the modern-day domesticated sheep. The mouflon sheep have copper-brown, short hair and the males have thick spiraled antlers. As sheep breeds go, they are absolutely stunning. Fun fact: the Mouflon breed is so important to Cyprus that the sheep is featured as the Cypriot symbol on their 1, 2, and 5 cent Euro coins! Today, they are considered an endangered species with only 3,000 of these sheep remaining in Cyprus. As time went on and the sheep became more scarce, people begin to mix the Mouflon's sheep milk with goat's milk. Today the traditional recipe is made with both. However, most commercialized halloumi is made from cow's milk since cows yield much greater quantities of milk and since they produce milk throughout all seasons.
We traveled to Lefke, Cyprus where Zekiye, a local Cypriot known throughout her village for her halloumi cheese, spent the day with us showing us her generations-old recipe. Check it out below!
Prep time: 4 hours, on and off
Makes 4-5 Crescents of halloumi
Coagulation, & Breaking the Curds:
Heat 2 gallons of milk in a large pot, stirring occasionally. Prepare the rennet by stirring it a small cup of warm water to dissolve it. Once the milk is so warm that you can hardly bare to keep your finger in, add the rennet, stir, and turn off the flame. Cover the pot with a cloth or blanket to keep the temperature constant. Wait about 1 hour. To test if the cheese is ready, place the back of your finger on the formed curd and press down lightly. If nothing sticks to your finger, then the cheese is ready. Dip your hands into the curd and using your hands like whisks, move them in circular motions with your fingers spread to break apart the curd from the whey. Do this until the curds are small fragments floating within the whey. Next use a strainer, to push all of the curds down to the bottom of the pan (see picture for a visual), allowing the liquid whey to rise to the top. Do this until you have almost no curds floating in the whey.
2 gallons (7.5 liters) of raw sheep and/or goats milk (cows milk will also work)
1/4 tsp Single Strength Liquid Rennet (1/2 tsp for non-raw milk)
coarse sea salt
large pot to boil 4 gallons of milk
plastic pasta strainer with handle
large aluminum baking pan
straining flat spoon
5 cheese molds (2 cup or 16 oz size)
Forming the cheese:
The halloumi cheese is formed by placing the curds in the cheese molds and flipping them inside of the molds every so often. The liquid whey that exudes from the curds is used to make a second cheese called noor so you must try to save as much of the whey as possible. The method used by Zekiye is as follows but feel free to put your craftiness to use:
Puncture holes on one end of an aluminum baking pan (see pictures). Flip over a shallow bowl and place it on the other end of the baking pan to slightly elevate it. Place the holes over the edge of your table so that the liquid will strain back into the pot with the whey. Place 4-5 cheese molds on the baking pan. Use a strainer or strained ladle to scoop the curds from the bottom of the pot into the cheese molds. Make sure to strain as much of the liquid as possible from the curds before scooping them into the cheese molds (about 4/5ths full). Once you have filled the cheese molds with the curds, lightly press down on the curds with your fists to help expel more whey and to form the cheese. Wait 10 minutes before flipping the curds in the straining cups starting with the first cup you put the cheese curds in. The trick is to flip the straining cup upside down onto your hand, then lift the cheese mold up from the cheese, then flip the cheese mold so that is mouth is opened and place the cheese back into the cheese mold. Repeat until you have flipped all the cheese curds. Wait 2-3 minutes and flip again. Now take the first cup (or cheese mold) you strained and place it on top of the second cup, take the third cup and put it on the fourth and so on. This is done to put a little weight and press the whey out of the curd. Wait two minutes. Switch the top cups with the bottom ones. Wait 2-3 minutes. Separate the cups, flip the curds and place them on the pan again. Wait 2-3 minutes. Remove the curds from the straining cups and place them on the tray. Add a little cold water over the cheese to ensure the cheese does not stick to each other. Wait an additional 30 minutes for the cheese to settle (at this point you can move onto make the Noor recipe) as you heat the whey up to a boil so that you can begin the next process.
Finishing the Halloumi:
Once the whey boils, using a flat straining spoon, lightly place the helim cheese mounds into the boiling whey; they should sink to the bottom. Using the same spoon, stir the mixture slowly and gently every two minutes or so. Remove the scum that comes to the top. Once the helim mounds float to the top, remove them and place them flat on the aluminum straining pan. Pour a bucket of cold water on top of them to cool them down and make sure they do not stick to each other.
Salting and Folding the Halloumi:
Prepare a medium sized bowl full of large coarse sea salt and another large pan that can hold all of the cheese mounds. Remove a mound of cheese and place it in the pan. Now take a generous hand of salt and lather it onto both sides of the cheese. Lightly, fold the cheese in half so it looks like lips of a closed mouth. Repeat until all the cheese mounds are salted and folded. The halloumi will be ready to eat in about 30 minutes! Enjoy!
Traditional Halloumi Recipe
Captured by The Recipe Hunters: Leila Elamine & Anthony Morano